It was the fall of 1969, and a high school social studies teacher invited a University of Arizona expert on witchcraft and folklore to give a speech to upperclassmen. The speaker, Dr. Byrd Granger, addressed students of Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, AZ, and gave a presentation about witches’ common. According to Dr. Granger, witches often wear devil’s green, have green or blue eyes, blond hair, a pointed left ear with a node, and a widow’s peak – a V-shaped point in the hairline in the center of a forehead. Heads swiveled towards Ann Stewart, a Flowing Wells English teacher who had all of those attributes. Few could have predicted the consequences of that presentation.
Flowing Wells High School students began to tease Mrs. Stewart about whether or not she was a witch. She saw an opportunity to enhance the kids’ interest in literature and folklore. As she described it later: “I like to get kids involved. I teach American literature, among other things. Although I’ve never had a unit in the occult, we do delve into early American folklore and witchcraft. It was good fun and it stimulated them“. So Stewart played along. She never said she was a witch, but whenever students asked if she was one, she did not deny it. Instead, she replied with a variant of “Well, I have all the signs. What do you think?” What they – and the school administration – thought got her fired.
Ann Stewart wanted to increase her students’ interest in literature, so she suggested in 1970 that they find out what astrology is all about. That further enhanced the rumors about her involvement with the occult. Later that year, a junior high school teacher invited her to speak before her eighth graders about folklore and witchcraft. Mrs. Stewart dressed up and played the part of a witch in order to jazz up the presentation. When those eighth graders arrived in Flowing Wells High School that fall, many of them fueled the rumors that Mrs. Stewart really was a witch. The English teacher thought it was all good fun. Flowing Wells, however, was a particularly conservative community, and many students, their parents, and faculty members at the high school did not get the joke.
Mrs. Stewart was suspended on November 20th, 1970, for: “teaching about witchcraft, having stated that you are a witch in a way that affects students psychologically“. She was also accused of insubordination, discussing subjects beyond the curriculum, being a bad influence on students, and aggravating other teachers. The suspension of a teacher in 1970 for witchcraft became international news. In conservative Flowing Wells, Stewart became a pariah, shunned by neighbors and former friends. She appealed to the school board, but it confirmed the decision to fire her. So she sued in court, and there won on grounds that the board had violated the legal procedures for the dismissal of a tenured teacher like Stewart. The court ordered her reinstatement, but as if February, 1972, she had not returned to her job. It is unclear if she ever taught at Flowing Wells again.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading